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What is the correct way to wear a medical mask?

5 mins read

Claim: A picture being shared on WhatsApp shows the correct way to wear a medical mask when sick and when healthy. 

While it is true the image originated from Nigeria Immigration Service, the directive for wearing a medical mask is wrong. For both healthy and sick persons, the medical mask is worn the same way (i.e. the coloured part out and the white part inside). 

Full Text

Masks are a key measure to suppress the transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19) and save lives. Masks should however not be used alone but as part of other COVID-19 prevention measures, like physical distancing, good ventilation, washing of hands, etc.

A picture going viral on WhatsApp claims that the correct way to wear the medical mask if you are sick is to wear the coloured side out and if you are not sick, the white side out. This the image explains is because the white side is the filter and it stops germs from getting in if you are not sick and if you are sick it prevents germs from getting out.

This image was accredited to Nigeria Immigration service.

Screenshot of Viral Image.

Verification

Dubawa visited the site of Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) and found this image is the second image on its homepage. Dubawa also discovered this image had been shared since March 2020.

Screenshot of NIS site.

Dubawa also conducted a keyword search on what medical face masks are, their types and their proper use.

Types of face masks

There are different types of face masks.

Depending on the type, masks can be used for either protection of healthy persons or to prevent onward transmission.

Cloth face mask

Cloth face mask/covering is made out of everyday fabric and serves as a barrier to respiratory droplets. It however does not completely protect against COVID-19.

Getty images.

Respirators

Respirators, also called N95 masks, are designed to protect from small particles in the air, like viruses. They’re certified by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

The name comes from the fact that they can filter 95% of airborne particles but it is not resistant to oil.

Pbs.org

Surgical/medical face masks

Surgical face masks are fairly loose-fitting, disposable masks approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use as medical devices.

These masks prevent large droplets of bodily fluids that may contain viruses or other germs from escaping via the nose and mouth. They also protect against splashes and sprays from other people, such as those from sneezes and coughs.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), these are also known as medical masks and are composed of 3 layers of synthetic nonwoven materials configured to have filtration layers sandwiched in the middle available in different thicknesses with various levels of fluid-resistance and filtration.

The three layers of a surgical/medical make are:

Outer (fluid-repellent) layer: Typically coloured blue or green, this layer repels fluid, helping to reduce the chance that viruses and bacteria from the air attach to the mask.

Middle (high-efficiency filter) layer: The middle layer is what does the hard work in capturing viruses and bacteria. Any particles which get past the outside layers are filtered here.

Inner (absorbent) layer: The inner layer captures and absorbs moisture, reducing the chance of any mucus or bacteria from leaving the mask when the wearer coughs or talks.

Amazon.com

Who should wear a medical mask?

The WHO advises that a surgical or medical face mask be worn by health workers, those caring for COVID-19 victims, those with symptoms suggestive of COVID-19,  persons aged 60 and above or anyone with pre-existing medical conditions as they are at greater risk of developing serious illness.

Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) also agrees that medical masks be worn by these groups of persons. 

What is the proper way to wear a medical mask?

The WHO video on how to properly wear a medical face mask did not speak on the proper sides of a medical mask to wear. It only noted who should wear a medical mask and the correct process of putting it on and taking it off.

Smart Air, however, provides details on which side of the medical mask to use. Smart Air is a company dedicated to helping people protect themselves from the harms of air pollution by providing free, data-backed content on air pollution, air purifiers and masks to dispel myths and provide honest, reliable information to help keep people’s lungs clean.

According to smartairfilters, the coloured side (whether blue or green) should be outside but if the mask comes in one colour for both sides or all white, then the feel of the material should be used to determine which part should be out. For such masks, the softer part should be inside as it is the moisture absorbent layer while the rougher part should be outside as it is the moisture-repellent layer.

It is not advisable to use mask ear loops as a determinant for the direction of your mask as they are not consistent. While sometimes the straps are attached to the outside layer, other times the straps are attached to the inside layer.

A video on how to properly wear a surgical or medical mask is also available here.

Conclusion

While the image accredited to NIS is true as Dubawa found the same image on its page; the information contained in the image is not entirely true. Dubawa’s findings show that for both healthy or sick persons, the coloured side of medical masks should be worn outside. While the white part should be inside and this is supported by the functions of the different layers of the medical mask. 

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